Comparing the incomparable

Comparing the incomparable

I was lucky enough to see Ian Mckellen play Macbeth in Stratford alongside Judy Dench at the RSC – and this week felt incredibly proud to see my son give an amazing performance in the title role – at 17 years old, his performance blew me away – power, paranoia, politics in his delivery.

It stood up well against my memory of the great actor himself. To be able to tell a story using words you don’t understand is a great skill – one Bryn did wonderfully…(and Poppy stood up just as well to Judy too!)

Can’t wait for the video…great to have a wonderful creative person on the firm!

In branding – storytelling is about emotion and engagement – acting is the same.

J K Rowling, Noel Penrose & the Orders of the Phoenix

J K Rowling, Noel Penrose & the Orders of the Phoenix


Noel Penrose writes a wonderful series of inspirational notes – primarily for his children as they turn and face the world – he calls it Dad Advice. It holds a lot of lessons for us all.

Today he sent the following…good stuff!

The author, JK Rowling, has blended logic with magic and given us much to think about with the Harry Potter series.  Life lessons within the series that I particularly like are:

  1. Our lives are defined by the choices we make
  2. We must do what is right, not what is easy
  3. It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow up to be
  4. Happiness can be found in the darkest of times
  5. It doesn’t matter how small you are, you can always do big things
  6. Let others be the hero : give up the glory
  7. Question authority when authority is wrong

Much of what Rowling writes about is formed from her own humble experiences and a few years ago she gave an address to the students of Harvard Business School citing the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.  Key points I liked from her speech are shown below:

  • There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you
  • She said ‘My parents had been poor and it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships.’
  • ‘But what I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure’
  • JKR talks about the benefits of failure; her own failure and the lows it brought her to
  • I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun, so why do I talk about the benefits of failure?
  • Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential
  • I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized
  • Some failure in life is inevitable
  • It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default
  • Failure gave me an inner security
  • Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way
  • I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies
  • The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive
  • You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity
  • Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement
  • Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people who confuse the two

Believe in yourself.  Get back up.  Finish strong.  Be inspired by the dreams and achievements of others.

Picture: My wonderful Nephews.

UK PLC Budget Blues…Glasgow Rangers in disguise?

UK PLC Budget Blues…Glasgow Rangers in disguise?

Budget Day. Again.

George Osborne’s 3rd budget.

Politics fighting economics. Again.

Growth pulling against Austerity.

The ratings agencies are threatening a points deduction and liquidation

Goal is fiscally neutral. Give tax to lowest earners balanced against taxing super-rich.

The super-rich’s accountants rub their hands with glee.

The 50p top tax rate to come down as Stamp Duty on Mansions rises – new house price average falls as 100’s of £2M+ houses sell for £1.99M

Will falling corporation taxes and cutting red tape for small businesses be offset by the Banks still failing to lend to those smaller dynamic businesses who need loans

Entrepreneurs & SME’s need to fuel growth.

Yet Fuel continues to power the HMRC coffers.

Will increasing the threshold before tax is paid boost spending or simply to allow people catch up on inflation?

Cutting family tax credits, freezing regional public sector pay & keeping VAT high will hardly give confidence to everyday spending forecasts on the high street.

This budget was prepared in a colander – so many leaked policies.

Will it stimulate growth or keep the Tories onside while the Coalition bickers?

My prediction…Politics 3 Economy 2…with UK still fighting relegation.



People, customers, culture … not dollar, greed and cutthroat behaviour

People, customers, culture … not dollar, greed and cutthroat behaviour

Financial Services companies are back in the news again following Greg Smith’s resignation letter from Golden Sachs being published as an Editorial by the New York Times this week. Reinforcing the disdainful public belief that all banker’s are fuelled by greed and that the greedier you are the more career success you will get and that the reward for that success is massive salaries and bonuses.

Fuelling these fires in public may be indeed be driven by the altruistic reasons he states or hide a personal vendetta Greg Smith has against his former employer, but it does ring true. The stench of this fire will drift across more banks and stay rancid for some time. Just when Bankers are desperate to regain trust and rebuild customer confidence, they are facing yet more scrutiny that will achieve precisiely the opposite.

To do this, Financial Companies must focus more on how they work inside their organisations, what their beliefs are, how their culture must support these beliefs and that their people must represent this. To regain trust and improve their reputations, the banks have to put their customer’s front and centre into this process. They will need to ensure that to deliver customer driven initiatives, they change company centric processes. The 2 key words are Culture and Customers.

There is a great article by Shawn Parr in Fast Company Why Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch. A focus on getting culture right brings significantly better return on investment than blindly chasing the dollar…whatever the analysts expect. It needs to start from the top…but those at the top are often the same that got them (and unfortunately all of us) into this mess.

Which brings to mind that Lloyd Blankfein described Goldman Sachs as “doing God’s work”… chasing the dollar at all costs is killing their reputation, their people are noticing and soon their customers will just say no.



Marketing starts with a story

Marketing starts with a story

Some things never change. As everything gets faster and more urgent, there are some fundamentals all companies should focus on. One of those is the need for a story around which to have the dialogue with its customers and staff. Too often messages are created in isolation or as a reactive measure to new channels or competitor actions.

A good brand story should be persuasive so as to allow people to answer that fundamental question about a company – “why?” Why should I join that company? Why should I choose that product? Why is that service better for me that that one? Why is that brand more interesting that that one?

The are 4 strands to a great brand story


A story needs to be clear – so that it is understandable by those who hear it as much as by those who tell. The elevator speech, the CEO’s rallying call, the way a call centre responds to complaints, the advertising messages – whatever the channel – be it personal, traditional, digital or accidental.


However many ways a story gets delivered across all the internal & external channels for those inside or outside the organisation – the story must stay the same. Each telling of the story may be amended to suit those hearing or telling the story – but the storytelling should be crafted to create the desired response. Just as important is to stay the course. Too often companies get bored with the story or new people arrive to make their mark or competitors


The story must be based on the fundamental purpose that the company exists – that DNA reason why that makes the offer stand out. The story must ring true form the customer’s viewpoint as well as for all those key stakeholders from the company’s people, their partners, the analysts or regulators. Your people’s behaviours must deliver the story as much as your marketing messages


Make the story interesting, emotional, cut through – crafting to the story to a human level so it can touch the audience emotionally. Make the story connect to the audience so it shines through the clutter, rings true and is remembered. Can you write it in a sentence & a paragraph? Can you craft some dialogue for your people so that the story is easy and positive to tell? Check it out with some customers.

As good old Max Bygraves used to say…I wanna to tell you a story.



*picture source

IM hits SMS – networks must innovate for their users – fast.

IM hits SMS – networks must innovate for their users – fast.

Smartphones have become category killers for things we all thought were cool (as well as representing huge profitable revenues) – pagers, alarm clocks, calculators, satnav, cameras – and before long, handheld gaming, keys, healthcare monitoring amongst others will be hurt.

Now Smartphones have begun to bite the hand that feeds it. Research shows the 20 year rise of texting or SMS has declined in 2011 – with Ovum research calculating that global mobile operators having to account for some $14 Billion in lost texting revenues – some 60% more of a decline than in 2010.

Instant Messaging – Blackberry’s BBM & Apples’s iMessenger – are free to use, more fun and collaborative. While in the UK, texting remains on a high, most Smartphones are on pay monthly deals with 100s of texts bundled in the deal. So direct revenue from texts are reducing. ARPU is under threat. What should mobile networks do?

Time for the networks to adapt – they have a relationship with the user, and understand how the users have communicated with each other for years and should see the patterns emerging from which to innovate. They have the data. They have a relationship. Time to get useful.

Breaking down the internal barriers is the start of growth.

Breaking down the internal barriers is the start of growth.

Customer centric results are rarely delivered by company centric processes, yet, while all companies are scrapping for growth and reaching out to customers with new initiatives, a lot are struggling to deliver the experiences that they devise for their customers, because the corporate mindset is not aligned.

Marketing and brand people are frequently collating customer learning and insights that identify fertile growth areas. Something then goes wrong. Their internal machines work on a company centric or channel centric or silo centric premise and process. Us and them. Me not we. Competitive not collaborative. Yesterday not tomorrow.

Companies have been used to driving shareholder returns often by maximising efficiency and cost cutting to an extent that these are now deeply ingrained in the corporate psyche. Each part of the company has had a distinct role in delivering these bottom line successes. These different elements of the organisation have slowly become separated into big business units – often led as a separate mini organisation. They have layers of bureaucracy and tell their own versions of the company story. They’ll have their own separate advisors (often advising on the same thing as other units) and work to different KPIs. Communication is great up & down the separate Units but poor across the company. Top down is the only channel – and often with messages for the ears of the analysts waiting for the next quarterly profitability reports.

To drive customer driven growth, many companies must change on the inside before they succeed on the outside. They must move from the mentality of “the business we do” to that of “the business the customer needs”. The old marketing thinking, dominated by Mad Men, was to create desire by telling beautiful stories in advertising. Making the customer want your products. 21st C branding is all about making products or offering services that customers need.

The whole company needs to have the customer in their focus in everything they do. The company purpose and culture will be driven by the customer. The internal processes will need to change to be customer centric.

This kind of change is tough. Big and small companies are good at what they do and that’s easy to be the prime focus. Marketing is one area that perhaps can help this change.  Communication and collaboration are the fundamental basics of a marketing approach. Insight and messages are the bread and butter of the customer dialogue for brand led growth. Bringing these skills into the company processes with the outside in view that marketers have can help. Bringing creativity and collaboration is the best way to break down the silo mentality.

Trialling new, small cross functional teams with a customer driven objective will begin to create something new that can show success to the rest of the organisation’s separatists. Learning to think differently as a team, in a collaborative environment, with the blessing of top management and without the restrictions of the day to day, quarter by quarter focus, is achievable quickly if you pilot it. Aim at a few, short term outputs. You shouldn’t outsource creativity or collaboration. Learning to do it yourself bring huge benefits and allow success to positively infect those around these teams.

Just as importantly, whatever the objective of these pilot groups, whatever the outputs they are tasked with, the voice of the customer must be there throughout. Use customers in these creative sessions. Ensure the outputs are shaped with the customer or end user throughout – not simply as a check or box to tick at the end. Today this is possible with advances in online research. This is possible with the rapid advancement of social media platforms that allow private communities – staff and/or customers to upload their own content, share information, blog and chat or have sessions like webinars and programs to encourage collaboration and sharing. Community thinking works with staff as well as with customers.

A culture of trialling changes on the inside via small, well supported pilots will feed back into the organisation and become a lighthouse across the silos, a sign of things to come. By leading with the customer’s outside in view, driven by those with the customer insight (sales, brand, telesales, marketing, stores – whatever) will bring the platform for growth that is eluding companies hampered by internal barriers. Alignment and cooperation will be the outcome of these pilots, plus the customer driven outputs of each pilot group. A focus on finding successful customer initiatives break down internal barriers and creates an culture where all staff are empowered to deliver value to customers, independent of which department they belong to.

Changing on the inside with the customer driving the change will turn the fertile areas for growth into a reality.

If 2012 is the year of mobile – has Barclays got off to the right start?

If 2012 is the year of mobile – has Barclays got off to the right start?

In December, I noted that the mobile would become the primary focus of many interactions for customers and brands in 2012. This year, Smartphones are going to outsell PC’s – with nearly 90% of the world – be that poor, developing, emerging or developed markets – having a mobile phone. More people have a phone than a home, a car, a living wage. Whereas the developed world has great infrastructure, that allow for interconnectedness at home or work and have utilities and banks with systems that rarely go down – indeed systems that are more trusted than those in charge of them – the vast majority of the world can only really depend on their mobile devices.

Money transfers and healthcare applications in the developing world are already ahead of those in the “more connected” developed world. However, this is changing. While the financial institutions are struggling to regain trust following their culpability in sending the world into recession in 2008, they recognise that their customers are demanding not only more transparency, they are expecting services that are more useful. Banks need to look to new innovations that recognise this.

In the UK, First Direct is leading the way…again. Their customer service approach has always led the way – not just in financial services but in across the board. Their use of social media has added to their fantastic phone based service to their customers. Their first direct labs and first direct live offers are great. They launched the twitter service @firstdirecthelp to more success – see the attached Econsultancy report.

As an organisation, first direct are organised around customer service and has been for years. They are a leading example of a 21st Century Brand – indeed they already were in the last Century. Customer driven innovations will always beat me too innovations and new offers that simply ones jump on the bandwagon. Too many organisations attempt to have digital and social media offers or channels without linking them to two core foundations;

  • Is the offer directly linked to the company’s purpose or DNA
  • Is the offer clearly meeting a customer need

If neither is being met, the service will flop and the brand will be damaged. If this is done in public (and all social media is in public), the damage is magnified significantly (and rapidly). Getting it right deliver significant benefits, that magnify the word of mouth of the brand, and create advocates who praise the experience. Brands need to test these innovations out internally, with small pilots. Then when they are ready to launch, control the environment so that more learning can be captured, in order to constantly improve the offer.

So it was interesting to look at Barclays new mobile offer Pingit that was launched this week. The Pingit application allows people to send money to each other using simply their mobile phone numbers. Via Smartphones, Pingit allows Barclays current account customers to send money, but all UK account holders will be able to receive money through the system, by registering online.

The messages Barclays are using to promote the service are positive and customer driven – offering a small, useful service for friends and family – rather than a world beating e-commerce (or m-commerce) breakthrough. Barclays are containing the initial users to small amounts of money and only for their own current account holders. But they’ve also announced a 2nd generation app is due that will open the service for other bank customers. This suggests further learning is being gathered before offering it to a wider audience.

While the data protection regulations prove a significant stumbling block for this kind of innovation – especially where banks need customer data to hone their offers in more targeted shapes for their customers, Barclays have got this right so far. I suspect they have a good dialogue with those of their customers who want a simpler way to transfer money. Their insights have allowed them to shape the offer for them rather than simple copy software that exist in Africa and Asia already.

Where brand have a good dialogue with their customers, then customers share not only their dissatisfaction but reveal more needs and wants. These deliver the insights for brands to shape new offers.  I think Pingit will grow significantly and be the forerunner of more apps that Banks will develop for their customers to use. If that usage provides a positive experience, then maybe the bank’s relationship with their customers will start to rebuild trust. Those, like first direct, will remain the preferred choice. Has Barclays turned a corner?